This statement is false. Think about it, and it makes your head hurt. If it’s true, it’s false. If it’s false, it’s true. In 1931, Austrian logician Kurt Gödel shocked the worlds of mathematics and philosophy by establishing that such statements are far more than a quirky turn of language: he showed that there are mathematical truths which simply can’t be proven. In the decades since, thinkers have taken the brilliant Gödel’s result in a variety of directions–linking it to limits of human comprehension and the quest to recreate human thinking on a computer. This program explores Gödel’s discovery and examines the wider implications of his revolutionary finding. Participants include mathematician Gregory Chaitin, author Rebecca Goldstein, astrophysicist Mario Livio and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky.
This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
Sir Paul Nurse is a Nobel Laureate and the President of Rockefeller University, where he continues to do research in cell biology. He is the former Chief Executive of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom. Nurse was knighted in Great Britain for his contributions to cancer research.
Gregory Chaitin is a mathematician and computer scientist who began making lasting contributions to his field while still a student at the Bronx High School of Science. His approach to mathematics views the field as much as an art form as science and inextricably linked with philosophical questions. He is the chief architect of algorithmic information theory, which measures the complexity of data sets and allows for means of computing that complexity through software programs. He is also discoverer of the remarkable Omega number, the exquisitely long and incalculable representation of randomness and unknowability, which shows that God “plays dice” and that some mathematical truths are accidental. Dr. Chaitin is now trying to create a general mathematical theory of evolution at the forefront of the emerging metabiology field, which regards life as biochemical software, with DNA a natural programming language for building and running organisms parallel to the digital bits of artificial computer software. He is part of a current discussion that regards reality as more information- than analogue-based—in which the design of life is seen to reflect the “mind of God” rather than the “matter of God.”
Dr. Chaitin is the author of a dozen books about mathematics and philosophy, including Conversations with a Mathematician: Math, Art, Science and the Limits of Reason (2002), Meta Math! The Quest for Omega (2005), and Thinking about Gödel & Turing (2007). He worked for many years at the IBM Watson Research Center in New York, where he is currently emeritus.
Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, a bestselling author, and a popular speaker. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published more than 400 scientific papers on topics ranging from dark energy, cosmology, and black holes, to supernova explosions, extrasolar planets, and the emergence of life in the universe. Livio is the author of five popular science books, including The Golden Ratio (for which he received the Peano Prize and the International Pythagoras Prize) and Is God a Mathematician? which inspired the 2015 NOVA program The Great Math Mystery. Livio’s most recent book, Brilliant Blunders, was on The New York Times Best Sellers list and was selected by the Washington Post as one of the “2013 Best Books of the Year.”
Marvin Minsky is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence and had made numerous contributions to the fields of AI, cognitive science, mathematics and robotics. His current work focuses on trying to imbue machines with a capacity for common sense. Minsky is a professor at MIT, where he co-founded the artificial intelligence lab.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Orthodox Jewish background and advanced studies in philosophy came together in an original writing style for which she has been widely recognized. As a philosopher, her areas of specialty are philosophy of science, mathematical logic, and seventeenth-century rationalism. With the convergence of two major life events—the death of her father and birth of her daughter—she set out to examine how the life of the mind intersects with the sometimes brutal demands of daily existence. The result was the critically acclaimed bestseller The Mind-Body Problem. More novels followed, and in 1996 she received a MacArthur prize for her ability to “dramatize the concerns of philosophy without sacrificing the demands of imaginative storytelling.”
Newberger Goldstein turned to biography in Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, chosen by Discover Magazine as one of the ten best science books of 2006, and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, winner of the 2007 Koret International Prize. Other fiction works include Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal, and Quantum Physics. Her latest novel, published in 2010, 36 Arguments for The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, elicited praise for its focus on real moral questions and the author’s “rare ability to explore the quotidian and the cosmological with equal ease.” In 2008 she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism.